While the coronavirus gets headlines for wreaking havoc around the world, a lesser-known but insidious affliction continues to cause horrible pain for thousands of military veterans and defense contractors who have served overseas: burn pit exposure.
What Are Burn Pits?
Burn pit exposure is a debilitating condition resulting from being exposed to open-air fires used to destroy trash at U.S. military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. These so-called open pits have caused thousands of civilian contractors and military personnel to inhale toxic smoke and fumes. People exposed to burn pits have reported the destruction of batteries, plastic chemical drums, nylon, tires, and even body parts. Bases have reportedly used JP4 jet fuel to ignite trash, releasing clouds of benzene (a known carcinogen).
The Damaging Impact of Burn Pits
The use of open pits has created injuries that have lingered years after contractors and soldiers have returned to the United States. In 2018, an Administrative Law judge ruled for the first time that such injuries may be compensable under the DBA. Virginia Landry was sent to Iraq in 2004 by Kellogg, Brown, and Root. She worked as a recreational and morale specialist at Mosul Air Force Base. After suffering PTSD, she was sent home. But her problems were just beginning. She began to develop lung problems and migraines among other physical ailments, triggering hospital visits that have dogged her for about 10 years. In 2018, a judge ruled that the presence of open-air pits during her time in Iraq contributed to her lung problems. Two years later, she was finally awarded disability and some medical reimbursement for her expenses.
Her road has been a difficult one. The insurance company for her employer refused to pay her medical expenses and acknowledge the injuries arose from her employment until the judge’s ruling. Meanwhile she continues to experience painful flare-ups due to inflammation of her lungs. She is not alone, either. About 186,000 veterans and active members of the military have responded to an Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry established by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2014. We don’t know how many contractors are suffering from this affliction. But we know from experience that contractors face the risks serving alongside military personnel – so Veronica Landry is surely only one of many.
The Defense Base Act
Contractors have no VA registry to turn to – and a registry is hardly a guarantee of getting any justice for this horrible affliction. But contractors have another option: filing for workers’ compensation relief under Defense Base Act. For civilian contractors who are injured while working overseas or on a military base, the Defense Base Act entitles them to benefits to cover their lost income as well as their medical expenses.
The provisions of the act are similar in function to state workers’ compensation programs in that every government contract that comes within the purview of the act requires that the contractor maintain insurance that will pay benefits to employees if they are injured. If an employee who is covered by the act is injured, he or she will receive disability and medical benefits if he or she is unable to work. The rate of compensation varies per situation including when the injury was sustained.
This is just one of many reasons an injured worker should contact an attorney that is experienced in Defense Base Act claims. In cases of permanent disability, workers can receive benefits for life that is adjustable based on fluctuations in the annual cost of living. Under the act, injured workers are allowed to see the physician of his or her choice.
As the example of Veronica Landry attests, getting compensated from employers and insurance companies for a Burn Pit affliction can be difficult. That’s why you need the help of an experienced attorney at a firm such as Capron Avgerinos & Heinlen. We have deep experience helping contractors get justice through the Defense Base Act (DBA).
For example, we negotiated a $635,000 settlement for a 53-year-old interpreter who suffered multiple injuries while deployed in Baghdad. The settlement included compensation for his disability and ongoing medical treatment over the course of his lifetime. You can learn more about our DBA work and expertise here.
Thanks to the DBA, at least civilian contractors have recourse to gain some compensation for the price they have paid while serving our country. This blog post of mine provides more detail about who is covered and the benefits the DBA provides.
If you or a loved one believe you are a victim of Burn Pit exposure, contact Capron Avgerinos & Heinlen. We know how to get justice you deserve.
Call Capron Avgerinos & Heinlen
If an employee who is covered by the Defense Base Act is injured, he or she is entitled to disability and medical benefits. No two cases are the same, and the amount of compensation varies per situation. This is just one of many reasons an injured worker should contact an attorney that is experienced in Defense Base Act claims. Call Capron Avgerinos & Heinlen now at (855) 208-3699 if you believe you are entitled to compensation under the Defense Base Act. We are ready to assist. Let us show how we can deliver results for you.
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